Portage County Commissioners, in a stalemate on hiring a fiscal director, have put off action on the 2013 budget until the new board is seated and the cash carryover from this year is certified.
"We are going to appropriate a budget that is a mirror image of the end of 2012 for 2013," said Commissioner Chris Smeiles. The board canceled its budget hearings with elected officials and department heads slated to begin last Thursday.
The board has been looking for a new director of budget and financial management since Audrey Tillis left in late July to take a similar job in Mahoning County. Tillis continues to consult with the board on budget matters.
The board stalemated over a staff recommendation that David Brode, an assistant prosecutor and former budget director for the city of Ravenna, be hired. Smeiles voted to hire Brode and Commissioner Maureen T. Frederick voted "no." Commissioner Tommie Jo Marsilio abstained from the vote because she said she and Brode "have a very close, personal friendship" and a casual dating relationship.
The county budget director heads the accounting function for the water resources department and solid waste management district as well as serving as budget analyst for the board of commissioners.
Brode was budget director for the city of Ravenna from January 1988 to March 1992. He was then a magistrate at juvenile court until 2002 and has been an assistant prosecutor since then.
Marsilio said she was not legally required to abstain from the vote on Brode because the position does not report directly to her, but to the full board.
"There's nothing unlawful about this, but I am taking the high road and not participating in this decision. By the same token, I don't think we want to get in the business of dinging people because of who they know," she said.
Marsilio said that Smeiles and former commissioner Chuck Keiper vacationed with and were friends with Leigh and Anita Herington before Anita Herington was hired as head of the county Department of Jobs & Family Services several years ago. She also noted that Frederick voted on the hiring of a friend for a county job.
Frederick said she recommended someone for a job as a driver for Job and Family Services. That job does not report directly to the board of commissioners, she said.
"I have often recommended people for openings, if I feel they have a strong work ethic. And I will continue to do so," Frederick said.
However, Frederick said, "I do not and have never have had a romantic relationship with anyone I have recommended."
"I have never called a director and said 'you have to hire this person,'" she said.
Frederick said she favored hiring another finalist who she felt had the most current financial experience.
"It takes two votes. If they felt so strongly it should be David, they should have voted that way. And yes, I would work with him," Frederick said.
Smeiles said he was not concerned that the relationship between Marsilio and Brode would affect the county's business.
"I have full confidence that he would not allow his personal life to interfere with his professional life," Smeiles said.
When Tillis said she was definitely leaving, Frederick said she proposed the board talk to Auditor Janet Esposito about taking on some of the budget office duties "because we were getting close to the budget process. "Tommie Jo and Chris said 'absolutely not,'" Frederick said.
As a result of the stalemate, Smeiles and Frederick sent a letter to the three finalists saying the county was moving in another direction.
Commissioners have decided to see if they can contract out for the budget analysis.
"Because the board could not come to consensus on a new budget director, the questions was, who is going to process the hundreds of (budget) requests. It was decided that we simply process the 2012 budget and let it roll into 2013," Smeiles said.
The county's 2013 budget will be amended "after the county budget commission certifies additional funds, if any, and after new commissioners are seated," he said. Smeiles, who is leaving the board at the end of this year after serving six terms, did not run for re-election.
Former commissioner Kathleen Chandler was elected to succeed Smeiles in the Nov. 6 general election. She will join Frederick and Marsilio on the board.
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